I have been piecing together a workstation build I am happy with over the last couple of months. In that process I have purchased a few different components that I did not like and ultimately repurposed or returned. These are the components I ended up with.
I will have build pictures and more information about the process online this coming week once the rest of the components arrive. First of all, I should say that I have always been intrigued by compact and miniature technology. I like my iPhone because it is very compact. The 11-inch MacBook Air fits that paradigm as well.
The case is always a very important part of any system. I had some frustrating experiences choosing a Mini ITX case like I previously wrote about and I have actually decided to forget about building the Mini ITX system and move to a Micro ATX or ATX motherboard. Starting off this process I purchased a Cooler Master Elite 343 Micro ATX case. It fits the compact category but is frustrating to deal with if you change things very frequently.
The case I ended up ordering was the Silverstone SG04B-FH and I am very happy with the case. Although it’s hard to tell from the picture, the case is extremely compact for a Micro ATX case and involves some design compromises but everything seems intelligently engineered and works extremely well.
The case supports two 3.5-inch hard drives, one optical drive, one external 3.5-inch bay which can also be used for two 2.5-inch drives by adding a bracket, and supports up to two 10.5-inch long graphics cards. I chose this case because it is compact and because it has a handle. The case is fairly heavy but the construction is top notch.
For this system, I decided to use an excellent Gigabyte board in the form of the GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 Micro ATX motherboard. This motherboard is based on the excellent Intel Z68 chipset for the Sandy Bridge platform. It is the best of the three Gigabyte Z68 Micro ATX boards. I originally decided on this board based its support for DisplayPort, DVI, and HDMI if you are using Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics.
I probably would have gone Mini ITX if Gigabyte made a Z68 chipset Mini ITX board but Gigabyte only has two Sandy Bridge Mini ITX boards and only one has a decent configuration but that board is totally out of stock everywhere and may have either major supply problems or be discontinued.
When I originally started putting together this system, I thought I would stay with the Intel HD 3000 graphics. Realistically I need more than two monitors and so I need a discrete graphics card. Based on the original idea, I purchased the inexpensive but high quality Antec EA-380D power supply. Once I decided to move to a high end discrete graphics card, I knew I needed a higher-end power supply.
I have read about many, many different power supplies. I was pretty well set on getting a modular power supply so I could remove whatever cables were not really needed. I have primarily been looking at Silverstone power supplies but have considered a few others. Based on a conversation with Bojan Nastic on Twitter, I decided to go with his recommendation of the Seasonic X-660.
The X-660 is a high-end and very quiet power supply that provides a very efficient (Gold rated) 660 watts of power. It also features four 6+2 pin PCI Express power connectors so I can use two of my chosen graphics card should I want to do so in the future.
In the process of choosing components, I was initially looking at using the system with the cheapest processor to see if I liked the setup. I bought an Intel Core i3 2105 but then sold it because I decided I wanted a faster processor. A few weeks later I got the same Intel Core i3 2105 for $45. I think it might have been a mistake and in hindsight I should have purchased a bunch but I just bought one thinking the order would be cancelled. In a few days I received the processor just as I had hoped.
Although I did not have high expectations of the Core i3 2105, I was quite impressed with its performance. I used the processor for several months but kept on the lookout for the other processor I had my eye on. There are only a few Intel Core i5 chips that are 65 watts or lower TDP and only one with Intel HD 3000 graphics. That processor is the Intel Core i5 2405S. I waited to buy this processor until I found a good deal on eBay which I snapped up right away.
The Core i5 2405S is a quad-core chip without Hyper Threading but is quite capable and still 65 watts TDP. I have been very happy with this chip and will be initially using it for this workstation but I have an even faster chip on order.
The Intel Core i7 2700K just became available and is the top-of-the-line Sandy Bridge desktop processor. It is a quad-core 3.5GHz processor with Hyper Threading and can Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz. I ordered one from Amazon and it should ship by the end of this month or early next month.
I currently have 16GB of memory in four chips in my system. I used two Kingston HyperX Blue 1333MHz DDR3 8GB (2 x 4GB) memory kits. This memory has worked very well for me. If you are looking at overclocking (I am not), you might want to look at 1600MHz or faster memory.
I also have some higher capacity memory on order. As is often the case, 16GB kits (2 x 8GB) are much more expensive than 8GB (2 x 4GB kits). When I first checked a few months back, 16GB kits were almost $400 while 8GB kits were $40. The 8GB kits are now running $45 but the 16GB kits are as inexpensive as $140.
Since it was the least expensive option, I picked a Corsair Vengeance 16GB (2 x 8GB) 1600MHz DDR3 kit for $140. It is still out of stock but will hopefully ship around the end of this month or the beginning of next. I will most likely pick up a second identical kit so I can have 32GB of memory in my system.
As I have already mentioned, I initially started out planning to use the Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics on my processor but decided I needed discrete graphics for more than two monitors. I went straight for the AMD Radeon 6870 series of cards because they are very compatible with what I need to run and are reasonably priced for what you get. I specifically picked the PowerColor AX6870 1GBD5-2DH graphics card. It is a relative bargain at $160 from Amazon.
I like the 6870 designs because they pretty much all feature dual MiniDisplayPort outputs along with two DVI and one HDMI port. They can run four monitors easily although there are some six Mini DisplayPort output versions that can support six displays. The card I ordered will be delivered on Monday but I will have to wait until Tuesday to install the card because I need the new power supply.
The SSD will be here sometime next week since it has also been out of stock recently. I already have a Toshiba MK1059GSM 1TB 12.5mm 2.5-inch hard drive that I may put in the system. I will also most likely put my Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB 7200RPM 64MB drive in the system as well.
Later this week, once the rest of the parts I ordered come in, I will post another article detailing the installation process.